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Why Chatbots can’t communicate

How much marketing and advertising spend is undone by having a chatbot on your website? I’d suggest all of it. Reading the frustrating tale of a gig goer who couldn’t squeeze any refund out of a PayPal bot when an event was cancelled, reminded me of the irritations we all face when trying to speak to organisations. This ‘contact’ used to be a real person who could respond to nuance and finesse your enquiry with conversation, dialogue and often intuition.

Having tied up the affairs of a friend of mine who passed away, I have a very clear league table of those I’m likely to spend money with in future and those I won’t. The chatbot creates an instant barrier to business. And it’s not because I, like millions of others, aren’t digital natives – growing up immersed in technology. It’s a simple human reaction to the need to communicate with another human.

The resolution of my friend’s affairs were not straightforward, involved complex negotiations and occasional bemusement as websites continued to misunderstand the nature of requests – and demanded the deceased call back with evidence of their permission to engage. It may be that on specific occasions a chatbot can help – a simple bank balance check, for example.

But there’s an insidious erosion of trust for any company that relies on a machine to handle sensitive enquiries. My hunch is that in a world where linking up with each other on video call has been the only thing keeping us going for the last year, there’ll be one almighty kickback against the bots who claim to have the answer for everything.